Boeing’s troubled 737 Max plane is expected to carry paying passengers in skies over the United States for the first time in almost two years on Tuesday.
Those passengers will be aboard American Airlines Flight 718, scheduled to leave Miami just after 10:30 a.m. and land in New York at 1:30 p.m., ending a long and difficult chapter for Boeing.
The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after 346 people were killed in a pair of crashes, separated by months, in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The accidents and revelations about the plane’s shortcomings greatly damaged the company’s reputation and cost it tens of billions of dollars in damages, government fines and lost orders.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has been criticized by lawmakers and safety experts for doing a poor job in certifying the Max in the first place, last month became the first major regulator to lift its grounding order and allow Boeing and the airlines that use the Max to start making the changes necessary to fly the plane again.
The F.A.A. has since been joined by regulators in Brazil. Canadian and European aviation officials are expected to follow with approvals within weeks.
The families of those killed aboard the two fatal flights argue that the Max is still unfit to fly. Last week, they said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers that “the entire recertification process is suspect.” A Senate committee issued a scathing report this month, criticizing Boeing and the F.A.A. for safety and oversight failures.
The Max is a workhorse of the global airline fleet, used for domestic flights and some shorter international ones. It is significantly more fuel efficient than its predecessors and, as a smaller, single-aisle plane, is the kind of aircraft that airlines have favored in recent years to serve growing demand for direct, nonstop flights.
Boeing has scored some new orders for the Max in recent weeks. Ryanair, the low-cost European airline, agreed to buy 75 Max jets, and Alaska Airlines expanded an order by nearly two dozen planes.
But Boeing’s overall order backlog contracted by more than 1,000 planes in 2020. And the plane’s reintroduction is likely to be slowed as airlines struggle with the deep and sustained drop in demand for flights caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, airlines are generally carrying less than half as many passengers as they did a year earlier.
American plans to use the Max for daily flights between Miami International Airport and La Guardia Airport through Monday. The airline plans to increase service throughout January, using the Max for as many as 36 flights out of Miami each day, according to a letter American executives sent to employees last month. Tuesday’s flight can seat 172 people, 16 in business class and the rest in economy.
United Airlines has said it expects to start using the Max in the first quarter of 2021. Southwest Airlines, a major Boeing client that operates an all-737 fleet, has said it does not expect to fly the plane until the second quarter. Delta Air Lines does not use the plane.
It will be important to public perception of both Boeing and the Max that the first few months of flights be free of any major problems. Last week, Air Canada was forced to divert a Max plane being moved from Marana, Ariz., to Montreal because of engine trouble. The plane landed without incident in Tucson, Ariz., the airline said.
While American will be the first U.S. airline to put the Max to use, Gol, a Brazilian company, became the first in the world to resume flying the plane for commercial service this month.